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Vargas debuts, talks 'deja vu' in orange & blue

Left-hander reflects on return to Mets after working 2 frames in 1st start
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When Jason Vargas last left the home clubhouse at First Data Field -- back then it was called Tradition Field -- the room looked completely different. A block of lockers took up the majority of space in the center of the room, rather than the lunch tables that populate it today.

Other, minor differences also existed, though most of them washed away when Vargas slipped on a familiar blue uniform Thursday before jogging out to the mound.

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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When Jason Vargas last left the home clubhouse at First Data Field -- back then it was called Tradition Field -- the room looked completely different. A block of lockers took up the majority of space in the center of the room, rather than the lunch tables that populate it today.

Other, minor differences also existed, though most of them washed away when Vargas slipped on a familiar blue uniform Thursday before jogging out to the mound.

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"I've pitched on this field before in this uniform," Vargas said. "It was definitely a bit of déjà vu."

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A Port St. Lucie resident during Spring Training in 2007 and '08, Vargas did not last long with the Mets, and he was not particularly central to their plans at the time. But he is now. Brought aboard to give the Mets the sort of rotation depth they sorely needed, Vargas allowed one run in two innings Thursday in his Grapefruit League debut, a 3-2 loss to the Marlins.

"You just kind of let him go out there and do his thing," manager Mickey Callaway said. "He looked good, working ahead, doing those small things."

Video: MIA@NYM: Vargas on joining the Mets, first outing

The transition process should prove easier for Vargas than for most, and not simply because he spent time here a decade ago. Rather, Vargas' relationship with pitching coach Dave Eiland for four years in Kansas City means he does not need to spend time meshing his game with a new club's philosophies. Now a 12-year veteran of five different teams, Vargas knows what he has to do to prepare himself for 30-plus starts. That won't change just because he's in a different clubhouse.

"You're with a whole different group of guys, a whole different set of relationships, emotions, things that you haven't experienced with these players," Vargas said "I spent the past four years with another group of players that became like family to me. So I'm just looking forward to progressing, and continuing to have a chance with these guys to make a run at a championship."

Only two players remain from Vargas' first stint with the Mets: David Wright, who has not played in nearly two years due to injuries, and Jose Reyes, who spent four seasons away from New York before returning in 2016. Those two have joked with Vargas about things that happened back then, people in the clubhouse they all used to know. But the similarities end there.

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"When I was here, David and Jose were in a completely different level of their career than I was," Vargas said. "I was still trying to figure it out, still trying to find my place. They had already found a home and found a way to be productive and be a big contributor and a key part of a team. I was in a situation where I was trying to figure out how to do that and be that kind of player."

These days, Vargas' challenge is finding the consistency he lacked in 2017, his first year back from Tommy John surgery. Going 12-3 with a 2.22 ERA from April through June, Vargas stumbled to a 2-7 record and an 8.13 ERA his next 11 starts, before recovering somewhat in September. He believes he and Eiland figured out a mechanical tweak down the stretch that he can take with him to Flushing, where déjà vu may well strike again.

"It's nice to have some old and some new," Vargas said. "Hopefully, that makes for a winning recipe."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets, Jason Vargas